A couple of times I took out my wallet and mimed counting my money, pretending that there was more there than there really was, but at the end of the day, I had not caught the thief or even spotted a suspect. I went to Mr. Ness’ office and told him my plan for the next day.
Before the Mall opened the next morning, I met with the four security guards and explained my stratagem. With a needle, I ran a thin, strong thread through my pocket, then tied it to my wallet. I had each of the guards do the same. Next, we all stuffed our wallets with wads of newspaper cut to the size of bills. Then we began our peripatetic vigil.
By ten o’clock I had read every bit of store window literature and drunk another cup of Tommy’s coffee. Then I felt a gentle tug in my pocket, like a minnow on a fishing line and turned to see a gray-haired lady with a cane, holding my wallet with a puzzled look. The wallet was still attached to my pocket by the thread. She began to look panicky too. I know she couldn’t outrun me but her cane could be a formidable weapon.
I signalled to two security people nearby and we took her to Mr. Ness’ office. In her shopping bag were a wallet and a purse.
According to her own wallet, her name was Harriet Howden. “Busy” stared at her with disbelief. “Why is a grandmotherly person like you stealing?”
“My husband died two years ago, and I was finding it hard to get by on my pension. He had been a professional magician, and a very good one, and he taught me some of his tricks, including picking pockets. I decided to supplement my meagre income by using the skills he gave me. I always hoped the people I robbed could afford to lose a bit of money“. Should I be flattered to know that I looked as if “I could afford to lose a little money”, even though my wallet was stuffed with pieces of old newspaper?
I felt some sympathy for Mrs. Howden, as did “Busy” and his security people. We hated to turn an impoverished old lady over to the police, especially because we suspected that Trade and Son were still angry and bitter about being robbed.
Then I had one of those brilliant, spontaneous ideas that I have too seldom: “Why don’t you have Mrs. Howden do a magic show in the food court once a week, on seniors’ day? You could take up a collection and divide the money between Mrs. Howden and some charity.”
The others agreed and I left feeling satisfied. On the way out, I decided to have a celebratory cup of coffee. After the long catechism (“No…no…no…no”), I received my coffee and handed the server a bill.
“Hey! What’s this?” She held up a piece of newspaper cut to the size of a bill. Oops!
We called Mr. Ness and I was exonerated, but by then my coffee was cold. It did not taste any worse, however.